Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen
Review and Giveaway

I have been a Vegan Richa fan for many years, and Richa Hingle's beautiful new book, Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen, fulfills every vegan foodie's fantasy for all the sensuously spicy stimulation great Indian food delivers. With a range of spices and seasonings as vast as the subcontinent itself, it's no easy task to combine them in the perfect balance needed to create the complex flavors and textures that are the hallmarks of Indian cuisine. An entire book filled with delectable vegan recipes that are not only exotically rich and flavorful, but also simple to prepare, is truly a gastronomic achievement.

Did I mention the photos? Not only is Richa a culinary force to be reckoned with, she's become quite the talented food stylist and photographer, as well. If the gorgeous full-color photos in this book don't make you want to just head for the kitchen and start cooking, I don't know what will. The biggest dilemma for me was that I wanted to make ALL the dishes all at once! (I still can't look at any of the photos in this book without starting to feel hungry.)

With no fewer than fourteen tantalizing cauliflower recipes in Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen, this cauliflower-loving girl was hard-pressed to choose just one for this review. Generally, I simply dry roast cauliflower and sprinkle it with a little nooch, and I'n good to go. But I'm as much a sucker for the popular Indian restaurant dish, Aloo Gobi (Potatoes and Cauliflower) as the next person. And there is a recipe for Richa's dad's favorite—albeit it's called Gobi Aloo—in the book. But the enticingly named Sweet and Spicy Baked Cauliflower dish (Gobi Manchurian)—a surprise discovery in an Indian recipe book—sounded too amazing not to try. Little did I know that such a thing as "Indian Chinese cuisine" existed. This tasty fusion of Chinese seasoning and cooking techniques adapted to Indian tastes is said to have been developed by the small Chinese community residing in Kolkata for over a century. The marriage of Chinese and Indian cuisines seemed like it had the potential for an explosion of mouthwatering flavors, so it was with the greatest of gusto that I set about preparing this fiery recipe, which excited my taste buds with its rich and spicy ginger-chile sauce. If you think it looks incredible in the photo, let me just say that it tastes about 1,000 times better than it looks!

Did you know that there are between 400 and as many as 1,000 mango varieties in the world? (It depends on which website you believe.) All I know for sure is that the mangoes that grow on my dear friend Parandeh's trees in Miami are the sweetest, juiciest mangoes I've ever eaten. If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, I think it would be Parandeh's mangoes. Mangoes are plentiful in India, but I had never tasted Mango curry. (When I was in Rajasthan, I did eat watermelon curry, and it was delightful!)  Richa's Mango Curry Tofu recipe made with mango pulp and coconut milk creates the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. My husband, who is most definitely not a fan of curry, enjoyed it so much, it inspired me to share the recipe with you at the end of this post. 

But hang on, don't scroll down to the end of the post just yet! This review would not be complete without telling you about the two Indian dishes I have missed most since becoming vegan more than twenty-five years ago: Navratan Korma, an entrée first created for kings and queens, and Rasmalai, a sensationally sweet dessert made with spongy balls of cheese soaked in saffron cream. Finding recipes for both in Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen was a dream come true for me.

Let me just mention here that when it comes to making flat bread, be it pita, pizza dough, chapati, or anything else, although I'm otherwise no slouch in the kitchen, I suddenly become all thumbs. Still, I had to roll up my sleeves and at least make a go of trying Richa's recipe for Naan. After all, what good is all that creamy-rich korma sauce without some freshly baked bread to soak it up with? While my result didn't look exactly authentic, it tasted amazing. And if I could do that, well, then anyone can. (My husband was still enjoying the Naan, long after the korma was gone!) As for Restaurant-style Navratan Korma recipe—a medley of fresh vegetables, cashews, and raisins all simmering together in a lusciously creamy sauce—it was even more delicious than the dairy-based dish I remember fondly from so long ago. 

As for the Rasmalai, there are two different options for making the "cheese" balls, and I tried both. The first, simpler recipe is made with tofu, and the second "more challenging" variation is made from scratch with soy milk. I heartily endorse going with the soy milk-from-scratch recipe, as I found that the resulting pillows soaked up the sweet saffron cream more readily, and it was well worth the extra bit of effort. As for the saffron cream, scented with just a splash of rosewater, it tasted exactly like the heavenly dessert I'd been missing so intensely. Way to go, Richa!

As promised earlier, following is the recipe for Mango Curry Tofu from Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen Copyright ©2015 by Richa Hingle. Reprinted with the kind permission of Vegan Heritage Press, LLC.

Mango Curry Tofu
Prep: 20 minutes | Active: 25 minutes | Inactive: 20 minutes | Serves 4

Mangoes are abundant in India, where they are always juicy and sweet. In the United States, mangoes can be a bit tart. For desserts or curries like this one, I prefer mango pulp or puree in canned or bottled form. You can use a ripe mango, if you prefer, but be sure to puree it well before using. This is a simple recipe but the resulting dish is very alluring with its sweet and spicy sauce. It can easily be made soy-free with 2 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 1/2 to 3 cups chopped vegetables. 

14 ounces firm tofu
2 teaspoons safflower or other neutral oil
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon Garam Masala
¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup chopped red onion
1 (1-inch) knob of ginger
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon safflower or other neutral oil
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
1¼ cups canned or culinary coconut milk
¾ cup ripe mango pulp or puree (unsweetened or lightly sweetened canned)
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
Generous dash of black pepper
¼ teaspoon Garam Masala, for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, for garnish

1. Tofu: Cut the tofu slab into 1/2-inch slices. Place them on a clean kitchen towel. Cover with another kitchen towel. Place a 10-pound (approximate) weight on top and let sit for 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can use pressed tofu. Cut the tofu slices into 1/2-inch cubes.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, tilt the skillet so the oil coats it evenly. Add the tofu and cook until lightly brown on some sides, stirring occasionally, 4 minutes. Add the cayenne, cinnamon, garam masala, and salt and mix well to coat. Cook for another 2 minutes and set aside.

3. Curry: In a blender, combine the onion, ginger, and garlic and blend into a smooth puree with 2 tablespoons of water. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds, bay leaves, and cloves. Cook for 1 minute. Add the pureed onion and cook until the onion mixture is dry and does not smell raw. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking, 13 to 15 minutes. Add the coconut milk, mango pulp, salt, and vinegar and mix well. Add the tofu and all the spices from the tofu skillet to the sauce skillet. Add a dash of black pepper.

4. Mix, cover and cook until the sauce comes to a boil, 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered until the sauce thickens and desired consistency is achieved, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt and tang. Add 1/2 teaspoon or more sugar if the mango pulp was not sweet. Garnish with cilantro and a dash of garam masala and serve hot.

A few other notes about Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen, in addition to all the lovely recipes for breakfast, small snacks, side dishes, dals, one-pot meals, mains dishes, desserts, and flat breads, you'll find recipes for making your own chutneys and spice blends, as well as resources for buying ingredients online and in brick-and-mortar stores. There's also an exploration into the many cuisines of India, and as an added bonus, recipes are indexed by region. (Just in case you want to create an authentic Punjabi or Kashmiri meal!) Quite simply, if you love Indian food and have been yearning for scrumptious vegan versions of classical Indian dishes (all made without a hint of ghee, heavy cream, or paneer), you are going to love this book! And if you've been wondering whether or not you can recreate authentic vegan Indian dishes, you'll joyfully discover that with the no-fail recipes in Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen, you'll soon be swooning over the dishes you make in your own vegan Indian kitchen.

But don't leave just yet! I'm giving away a copy of Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen to one lucky reader, and it could be YOU! For a chance to win this fantabulous book, simply tell me what your favorite Indian dish is (or what dish you'd most love to try) in a comment below, and then follow the Rafflecopter prompt to complete your entry.* Earn additional entries by following any or all of the other prompts in the Rafflecopter box. I'll be picking one winner at random. Good luck!  

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*Sorry international friends, this giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

But I Could Never Go Vegan!
Review and Giveaway

In a nutshell: I love this book! But I Could Never Go Vegan! is jam-packed with mouthwatering recipes that will give omnivorous readers all the inspiration they will ever need to start eating more healthfully, sustainably, and compassionately right now. Exquisitely photographed and cleverly laid out (recipes are arranged by excuses, rather than by seasons, occasions, or mealtimes), this book will not only inspire reluctant vegans, but will galvanize seasoned herbivores, who will find a profusion of delectable new recipes to add to their culinary repertoires.

Yes, you'll find incredible recipes for breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner, dessert, and lots of special occasions. However, the Table of Contents reads like every "but I could never go vegan" excuse you've ever heard like, "Vegan Cooking is Too Hard,""I Could Never Give Up Cheese!," "All Those Special Ingredients are Way More Expensive," and of course, the ever-present, "Where Would I Get My Protein?" to name a few. There's even a chapter dedicated to die-hard pescatarians with recipes like Artichoke Crabcakes with Sriracha Tartar Sauce and Beer-Battered Faux Fish and Chips.

Think you can't veganize your favorite breakfast dish? Check out these yummy Chickpea Omelettes from the chapter, "Vegan Cooking Is Too Hard." Vibrantly colorful and remarkably egg-like, these omelettes were hearty and healthy, and filled to the brim with mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, kale, and green onion. And they were super easy to make!

When does tofu not taste like tofu? When it's made into a scrumptious Tofu Chevre! I can't emphasize how impressed I was with the creamy texture and tart, cheesy flavor of this easy-to-prepare recipe. By adding some culinary lavender and rose petals, the result was a lovely cheesalucious treat. If you think you could never give up cheese (or know someone who does), give this nut-free recipe a try!

I've become a soup lover, and we often make a hearty meal of soup at our house. But until now, I've never been a fan of cheese in soup. Smoky and sultry are two words that come to mind when describing this lusciously creamy Broccoli Cheddar Soup from the"Not Soup Again!" chapter. With its gorgeously golden creamy base and bright green broccoli chunks, I'm now a cheesy soup lover!

Imagine the best "meatball" sub you have ever tasted, then think of the yummiest eggplant parmigiana you have ever enjoyed, and you'll get an idea of what these scrumptious Eggplant Meatball Subs with Spicy Marinara Sauce are like. This fantasy grinder, with its chunky, spicy, sassy sauce taste like a hoagie from heaven.

Also from the "But I Hate (Insert Vegetable Here)" chapter, you'll find this delightful recipe for Sweet and Sour Cauliflower. Mark is not a huge cauliflower fan, so I thought I'd give this recipe a try. The sauce has just the right balance of sweetness and kick, and Mark gave it two thumbs up! In this chapter, you'll find more win-'em-over recipes made with beets, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

Balsamic Baked Pears with Cashew Blue Cheese from the "I Could Never Give Up Cheese!" chapter was a delightful mix of tart, sweet, and salty. I've been laying low on sugary desserts lately, so this subtly sweet treat really hit the spot! 

And because I made a whole batch of blue cheese, I treated myself to Kristy's Roasted Root Veggie and Kale Salad with Cashew Blue Cheese so much, I'm sharing the recipe with you. Although you'll have to get your hot little hands on a copy of the book to get the recipe for the blue cheese (my intention is not to tease, but to rather, to tempt!), this salad is so good, you're going to love it on its own! Take a look at this vibrantly beautiful salad, and then check out the recipe near the end of this post.

The recipe for Roasted Root Veggie & Kale Salad is from But I Could Never Go Vegan: 125 Recipes That Prove You Can Live Without Cheese, It's Not All Rabbit Food, and Your Friends Will Still Come Over for Dinner, copyright © Kristy Turner, 2014. Reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. 

Serves 4 

3 medium beets, peeled and chopped into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
1 small celery root (celeriac), peeled and chopped into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
1 tablespoon liquid aminos (or tamari or soy sauce)
Olive oil spray
2 teaspoons dried thyme
Several dashes of ground nutmeg
Salt and black pepper to taste

8 to 10 small rainbow carrots, peeled, or 1 cup (160 g) chopped carrots
1 bunch kale (12 to 16 ounces), stems removed, chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1½ teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) balsamic vinegar
2 to 3 tangerines, peeled and separated into wedges
Cashew Blue Cheese (found on page 46 in But I Could Never Go Vegan!)

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

2. Spread the beets and sweet potatoes on one baking sheet, keeping them separated so the beets don’t bleed onto the sweet potatoes. On the other sheet, spread the celery root. Drizzle the liquid aminos over the celery root. Spray all the vegetables with olive oil and evenly distribute the thyme, nutmeg, salt, and pepper across them.

3. Roast for 15 minutes, then toss to ensure even cooking (keeping the beets as separate from the sweet potatoes as possible). Scoot the celery root toward one side and lay the carrots on that baking sheet. Lightly spray the carrots with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, return both sheets to the oven, and roast for 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, place the kale in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice and oil. “Massage” with your hands for 2 to 3 minutes, rubbing the lemon juice and oil into the leaves. Set aside.

5. In a medium pot, bring the vinegar to a boil over medium heat (not high heat); reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until reduced by at least half, if not two-thirds (the longer it cooks, the thicker it will be). Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl or cup to cool.

6. When the vegetables are fork-tender, remove to cool for about 5 minutes. Add to the kale with the tangerines and toss. Serve with Cashew Blue Cheese and the balsamic reduction.


• Try adding different root vegetables or even winter squash.

• If sweet salads are not your thing, replace the reduction with Lemon-Tahini Dressing (page 117) or Dijon-Thyme Vinaigrette (page 255).
But I Could Never Go Vegan! illustrates beyond any remaining shadow of a doubt that there is definitely a decadently delicious life beyond dairy, meat, fish, and eggs, and you can tantalize the taste buds of anyone who enjoys eating. Enter to win your very own copy of this wonderful book right now simply by leaving me a comment below with your "favorite" excuse for not going vegan (it could be the most illogical excuse you've ever heard, the one that you might have told yourself before you stopped eating cheese, ice cream, or eggs, or the one that drives you the most crazy), and then follow the prompt in the Rafflecopter box. (This step is required for entry.) After you leave a comment, you can earn additional entries by following any or all of the other Rafflecopter options. I'll be selecting one lucky winner at random.* Good luck!

*Sorry international readers, this giveaway is open only to residents of the US and Canada. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Forks Over Knives Plan
Review and Giveaway

This is the book you want to get that special someone, who could use a gentle nudge and some friendly day-to-day hand-holding while transitioning fully to a healthful and delicious, whole-food, plant-based diet. In The Forks Over Knives Plan, husband and wife physician team Alona Pulde and Matthew Lederman meticulously lay out a step-by-step guide to the life-saving plan featured in the groundbreaking documentary, Forks Over Knives.  

Part One explores the many benefits of adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet, and explains how and why it creates and supports vibrant health. Part Two outlines a comprehensive four-week plan and walks readers through each stage of the transition, including a pantry purge. Fear not, vegan friends, this is no slouch into vegan eating plan. This is eating healthfully and deliciously and regaining our health starting right now and being fully supported in the process. Culminating in 100 easy-to-prepare recipes by Del Sroufe and Darshana Thacker and colorful eye-appealing photos by Tina Rupp, the journey to delectable, whole-food, plant-based eating is made delightfully simple and fun! From breakfast right through to after-dinner dessert, readers are treated to taste-tempting recipes like Multigrain Pancakes with Fresh Berries, Beets and Barley Salad, Polenta Curry, and Chocolate Raspberry Parfaits. Here are just a few of the dishes I made from the wonderful recipes in The Forks Over Knives Plan:

Potato-Vegetable Chowder—Who doesn't love a great chowder? This one is seasoned with thyme and is creamy, nurturing, and delicious.

Close your eyes, and imagine you are tasting a spoonful of this wonderfully warming soup.

The Penne with Tomato-Mushroom Cream Sauce was a snap to put together and oh, so delizioso!

This hearty Lentil-Vegetable Stew really hit the spot on one of the coldest days of season so far.

Tonight, I'm going to prepare Roasted Stuffed Winter Squash, so I thought I'd share this lovely recipe with you, too. It sounds so perfectly warming, tasty, and filling on such a chilly day! The recipe is from The Forks Over Knives Plan: How to Transition to the Life-Saving, Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet by Alona Pulde, MD, and Matthew Lederman, MD copyright ©2014 by Monica Beach Enterprises, LLC. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of Touchstone, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Photo ©2014 by Tina Rupp
Roasted Stuffed Winter Squash
Winter squashes, such as acorn and butternut, can be tricky to work with because their tough skin is hard to peel. Preparing squash this way -- stuffed with a savory filling and roasted -- puts that sturdy shell to good use. The rice should be quite moist after it cooks in step 3; it provides good contrast to the squash and helps the stuffing mixture stay together without becoming chewy or dry during baking. ~ Darshana Thacker

Makes 4 stuffed squash halves

2 medium acorn squash
½ cup wild rice medley
1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth, plus more as needed
½ medium red onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoons dried rosemary
½ cup finely chopped carrot
½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
½ cup small broccoli florets
½ cup small cauliflower florets
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt
3 tablespoons pine nuts

1. Cut each acorn squash in half through the stem. Trim the stem and remove and discard the seeds (keep the skin on).
2. Bring a large saucepan or pot of water to a boil. Add the squash halves and cook until the squash is slightly soft when pierced with a fork, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the water and drain well. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
3. Meanwhile, bring 1½ cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the wild rice medley and cook, covered, over medium heat for 25 minutes. (Alternatively, follow the cooking instructions on the rice package, using a bit more water than called for so that the rice is moist after steaming.) Remove from the heat and set aside.
4. Use a spoon to scoop out the inner edges of each cooled squash half to create a wider and deeper hollow for the stuffing; leave about half of the squash flesh attached to the peel. Reserve the scooped-out squash flesh for the stuffing. Set the squash shells aside.
5. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
6. In a skillet with a lid, combine the vegetable broth, onion, garlic powder, ginger, and rosemary. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, covered, until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Add the carrot, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, black pepper, and salt to taste, cover, and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes more.
8. Add the reserved squash flesh and wild rice. Use a wooden spoon to mix the stuffing together; it should be a bit creamy. If all the liquid has dried up, add about ¼ cup broth or as much as is needed to make it slightly creamy. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove from the heat.
9. Arrange the acorn squash shells on a baking sheet and divide the stuffing evenly among them. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top.
10. Bake until the pine nuts are browned and the stuffing is heated through, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for a few minutes before serving. Serve hot.
Congratulations to everyone involved with the creation of The Forks Over Knives Plan, which was recently chosen as an Apple Best of 2014 selection!

The best review I've read for this book appears on The Forks Over Knives Plan Amazon page. Reader Lani Muelrath writes: "The new Forks Over Knives book is like a visit with the kind plant-based doctor you wish you had. The doctor who is keenly interested in your health and well-being, assumes you actually ARE interested in taking practical steps – instead of pills – to be healthier. The doctor who believes you do have the drive to make better choices. The doctor who appeals to and honors your intelligence about it all." And in the words of T. Colin Campbell, PhD, author of The China Study, The Forks Over Knives Plan is "a smart, user-friendly 'how-to' book on using whole, plant-based foods." Enter now to win a copy for yourself or someone you love by leaving a comment below, and then follow the Rafflecopter prompt to complete your entry.* Earn additional entries by following any of the other prompts in the Rafflecopter box. Good luck! 

*Sorry international friends, this giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.  

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Vegan Casseroles
Review and Giveaway

A truly great cookbook is filled with easy-to-follow recipes that ensure perfect results every time, while at the same time inspiring home cooks to experiment, explore, and elaborate. Julie Hasson's terrific new book, Vegan Casseroles, is that and more.

Aside from the occasional holiday noodle kugel I enjoyed at my grandmother's house, I don't think I ever ate anything resembling a casserole as a kid. I know my mom never made one. (Not even with the help of Hamburger Helper.) So the word 'casserole' intimidated me. I thought it was some kind of fancy-schmancy style of cooking, rather than the simple, hearty fare that it is.

Because I never thought of a lasagna as a casserole, it was one of the very first one-dish meals I ever endeavored to make. Since making a lasagna for the first time can be an intimidating cooking endeavor (it was for me!), this only added to my trepidation concerning the mysterious "casserole." After years of trial and error, I came to believe that my "famous" Spinach Lasagna was as close to culinary perfection as a home cook could get. But Julie's Zucchini Basil Lasagna is over-the-top delicious and one-up on my recipe! It is not only sublimely delicious, it also comes together in a snap! For a hint of "meatiness," I added neat Italian Mix to the zucchini filling and perhaps a bit extravagantly, I also melted some Daiya Mozzarella Shreds over the top. I have since made this dish without the additions, and even though I'm not a huge zucchini fan, it was super yummy.

Take a perfect golden cornbread recipe and a deliciously smoky sloppy Joe recipe,  and voila! you get Julie's scrumptious Sloppy Joe Cornbread Casserole. Instead of TVP, I used neat Original Mix made with pecans, garbanzo beans, gluten-free grains and spices. It's a wonderful, gluten- and soy-free alternative to textured vegetable protein. This dish is as down-home, comforting, and nurturing as any meal I've ever enjoyed. And it was even more delectable reheated for lunch the next day!

After not consuming any sweets for more than three weeks, the recipe for Cranberry Apple Crumble was calling to me. And WOW! was it ever-so-yummy right out of the oven! The intoxicating aroma that spread throughout my house in waves of heavenly bliss beckoned me to taste that first forkful of deliciousness. It was worth the wait! And while it would have been amazing topped with a scoop of vegan vanilla ice cream, this dessert was sublime all on its own.

The next recipe I'm going to sink my teeth into is Mujadara, an ancient Arabic dish made with rice, onions, and lentils. (The earliest recorded Mujadara recipe dates back to the year 1226.) I'm sharing Julie's Mujadara casserole here, so you can make it, too! The tantalizing recipe from Vegan Casseroles © 2014 by Julie Hasson is reprinted here with the kind permission of Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.
Photo ©2014 Felicia Perretti
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow or sweet onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup brown lentils
¾ cup uncooked brown or white basmati rice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups steaming-hot vegetable broth, or 4 cups steaming-hot water with 1 to 11/2 tablespoons vegan chicken base, such as Better Than Bouillon, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Minced fresh parsley, for garnish

Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sprinkle with the salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring as needed. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes, or until the onions are a deep brown color.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.

Scoop the caramelized onions into the prepared baking dish. Stir in the lentils, rice, cumin, and hot vegetable broth. Cover the baking dish tightly with a double layer of aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour, if using white basmati rice, or 75 minutes if using brown basmati rice, until the rice and lentils are tender and have absorbed all of the liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with minced parsley.
If you'd like to create flavorful, one-dish-wonderful meals you'll want to enjoy over and over again, get yourself a copy of Vegan Casseroles!  And if you'd like to win a copy for yourself or someone on your gift list, simply leave a comment below telling me about your memory of the first casserole you've ever eaten, and then follow the comment prompt in the Rafflecopter box. (This step is mandatory for entry.) After you leave a comment, you can earn additional entries by following any or all of the other Rafflecopter options. I'll be selecting one lucky winner at random.* Good luck!

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*Sorry international friends, this giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vegan Without Borders
Review and Giveaway

Another winning collection of recipes from the amazingly prolific Robin Robertson!?! I can hardly believe it! Her latest title, Vegan Without Borders is a gorgeous hardcover book abundant with delectable, easy-to-prepare recipes from around the globe. When flipping through all the pages of tantalizingly beautiful Sara Remington photos, you're going to have an extremely tough time choosing which recipes to sink your teeth into first. I know I did. In a clever twist on the book's title, you'll also find colorfully bordered pages on the front and back covers and sprinkled throughout the book, which evoke a feeling of the many cultures and cuisines featured. The wonderfully crafted book design will lure you into taking your palate on an around-the-world adventure.

I "traveled" first to Spain with a delightful recipe for Vegetable Paella. This hearty stew is delicately seasoned with saffron and smoked paprika. Eggplant and artichoke hearts are delicious alternatives to the meat and seafood typically found in paella. And as Robin suggests in the headnote for this recipe, the next time I make this luscious dish, I think I'll add some baby bellas, too.

The real test of a good feta cheese stand-in for me is whether or not it lives up to fond memories of my favorite Persian breakfast of feta, walnuts, and raisins with warm pita bread. Feta, which originated in Greece, is a salty, crumbly, briny, curdlike white cheese made from sheep and goat's milk. It is also popular in Middle Eastern and Eastern European cuisines. Enjoyed with a cup of nice, hot tea, Robin's recipe is made from tofu and had just the right balance of saltiness from miso and briny"ness" from olive oil and lemon juice to take me back in time.

I'm sure that monks would swoon over Robin's Temple Soup, and so will you! This hearty, flavorful dish known as kenchinjiru in Japan, is an example of shojin ryori, or Buddhist temple food, a style of cooking based on compassion for all living beings and emphasizing seasonal vegetables and soy foods. There's a boatload of delicious nutrition in every spoonful of this soup made with kabocha squash, carrots, sweet potato, edamame, spinach, tofu, and shiitake mushrooms simmering in a luscious broth.

Robin's colorful recipe for Kung Pao Seitan and Eggplant was a big hit at our house. With a delightful array of flavors and textures, this vibrant dish is far superior to the classic Szechuan Kung Pao chicken dish so ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants. And I never knew that Kung Pao could be served with cashews instead of peanuts. YUM!

No trip around the world is complete with a sampling of desserts, and the photo and recipe for Mango and Rice Verrines reminiscent of Thai sticky rice were irresistible. Unlike most rice pudding recipes, this one starts with cooked Jasmine rice, which means you don't have to labor over the stove endlessly stirring! I'm so in love with this recipe, I'm sharing it below.

The following recipe for Mango and Rice Verrines from Vegan Without Borders by Robin Robertson ©2014 is reprinted with the kind permission of Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC.

These luscious rice pudding parfaits were inspired by my favorite rice dessert: the mango and sweet sticky rice of Thailand. Traditionally, this dessert is served on a plate with a scoop of coconut-infused rice surrounded by slices of mango. My version opts for a more unusual presentation, by layering the ingredients in clear glass dessert or parfait bowls or wineglasses. Verrine originally referred to a small glass container with no base that could hold a layered appetizer or dessert, which allows for a vertical and visually appealing presentation.

1 (13.5-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup natural sugar (try organic coconut sugar)
2½ cups cooked jasmine rice
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
2-3 ripe fresh mangoes, peeled, pitted, and finely chopped
¼ cup roasted unsalted peanuts or cashews, crushed

In a large saucepan, combine the coconut milk and sugar, and bring almost to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cooked rice, vanilla, and salt, and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached,stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool. Spoon a small amount of the rice into the bottom of 4 clear dessert or parfait glasses (wineglasses are good for this). Top each with a layer of chopped mango, followed by another layer of rice, until the ingredients are used up (or the glasses are nearly full). Sprinkle the tops with the crushed nuts. Refrigerate until serving time. Serve chilled.

If you'd like to add a bit of delicious international flair to your cooking, you'll want your very own copy of Vegan Without Borders. And right now you can enter to win this delightful book just by leaving me a comment below telling me your favorite international cuisine, and then following the prompt in the Rafflecopter box. (This step is required for entry.) After you leave a comment, you can earn additional entries by following any or all of the other Rafflecopter options. I'll be selecting one lucky winner at random.* Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
*This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada. 

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Sara Bella Upcycled
Review and Giveaway

What happens to the 1 trillion single-use plastic bags that are used worldwide each year? While some are reused, most end up in landfills or become litter that gets entangled in trees, chokes animals who are tempted to ingest them, or floats off in waterways, often suffocating or poisoning sea creatures. And plastic bags can take up to a thousand years to decompose—still leaving behind toxic particles, even after they break down.

Think about it: About a million plastic bags are used every minute. In the US, some states, like New York, enable consumers to recycle plastic bags, including frozen food bags. Here in the city where I live, plastic shopping bags have been banned, but a plastic bag ban merely shifts production to paper bags and compostable bags, both of which also have dire environmental consequences. And even with the plastic shopping bag ban in my city, we have no recycling method for frozen food bags, so they continue to make their way into landfills and cause devastating harm to animals. According to the International Animal Rescue Foundation, the damage plastic bags cause to wildlife is catastrophic:

Plastic bags are made of polyethylene and polyethylene is a petroleum product. When animals consume such plastic bags they are then poisoned by the chemicals within that bag as it passes through the animals digestive system or they simply choke to death. In many case animals stomachs and intestines become so clogged with plastic bag waste that many die just from this complaint. Plastic bags are often mistaken as food by marine mammals such as turtles that believe a floating bag is prey such as jelly fish. 100,000 marine mammals die yearly by eating plastic bags.

Sea Turtle mistaking a plastic bag for a jellyfish. Photo credit: ©npwsnorthernmarine
A cultural shift away from the use-and-toss culture is the better solution. A single reusable bag can eliminate hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic bags. One enterprising entrepreneur combines art and ingenuity to tackle the problem head-on. Artist/designer Sara Weiner "rescues" plastic bags and banners and turns them into functional upcycled products that are as beautiful as they are green.  At her Bend, Oregon studio, she creates colorful handbags, totes, wine carriers, wallets, zip pouches, bibs, purses, messenger bags, and even very cool fashion wear from plastic bags and banners that otherwise would have contributed to the plastic-bag crisis.

Upcycled Designer Trench Coat Photo Credit: Tambi Lane
You can feel truly wonderful about purchasing something lovely from Sara Bella Upcycled for yourself or someone you love, because 95% of every item is made with upcycled plastic. And the process for making all of Sara Bella Upcycled’s products is marvelously low-tech. They turn recycled plastic bags into "fabric" by fusing the bags together in layers. Feeling creative? You can even make your own upcycled fabric with the simple instructions you'll find on Sara Bella Upcycled's website or if you're in Bend, you can take a fun two-hour class and learn how to fuse plastic bags to create beautiful material!

As an artist, I deeply appreciate the creativity that goes into each and every Sara Bella Upcycled design. All of the products are fun and fashionable, and no two are alike. I got myself a Veggie Box Tote, and I am thoroughly delighted with not only its beauty and functionality, but its durability. So many of my reusable shopping bags have fallen apart quickly. Recently, one of the handles on my favorite Whole Foods bag fell apart right in the middle of the parking lot, as I was carrying my groceries from the store to my car. I thought that kind of thing only happened with the handles on paper grocery bags. I wasn't expecting to have to scramble under cars on all fours retrieving cans of tomatoes and garbanzo beans in the rain. Now I feel not only colorful and classy, but safe and secure strutting down grocery store and parking lot aisles with my new Veggie Box Tote!

Sara Bella Upcycled’s Veggie and Fruity Box Totes are the perfect size for my Saturday farmer's market haul! They are smaller than the large totes, but they are roomy enough for a bounty of delicious goodness!

Here's another view. You may notice that the Fruity Box Tote is empty, and if you look closely, you can see the tag still attached to one of the handles inside the bag. That's because I'm giving it away to one lucky reader! And that reader could be YOU!

Simply visit Sarabella's website, have fun browsing around and looking at all the pretty things, and then leave a comment below telling me which item(s) you find most intriguing. (Me? I'd LOVE one of those pretty aprons featured in the flash on the home page!) I'll select one winner at random to receive the lovely new Fruity Box Tote pictured above! As always, follow the Rafflecopter comment prompt to enter the giveaway, and if you want to increase your chances of winning with  additional entries, you can follow any or all of the other prompts, too.* Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more information about Sara Bella Upcycled and to peruse all the pretty things, visit their retail store and workshop in Bend's Maker's District at: 1234 NE 1st Street or visit their website.

*Sorry, international readers. The giveaway is open only to readers with a US postal address.